COUDERSPORT — A new position in the Potter County District Attorney’s office has goals of continuing to keep the community safe and make a larger dent in the county’s drug problem.
Jake Rothermel was hired as a county detective in July, after a proposal from Andy Watson, district attorney, was approved by the county commissioners.
Rothermel, a retired state trooper, will work to help combat the growing drug problem in Potter County and help with the caseloads of borough and township police departments.
Watson made the proposal to the commissioners a few weeks ago. Potter was one of 10 counties in the state that didn’t have a detective. After talking with other counties that had one, Watson determined it was an important position to bring back in Potter County. Bryan Phelps, current Sweden Township police chief, was the detective when Dawn Fink was the DA, but Watson said they lost grant funding for it before he took office in 2010.
It is a 40-hour/week contractual position through December. In October, Watson will seek re-approval for the next fiscal year.
Half of Rothermel’s time will be dedicated to drug enforcement, investigation, conducting surveillance, among several other tactics, and assisting the East Drug Task Force.
The East Drug Task Force was created in 2010 when “the drugs were rampant and out of control,” Watson said. He and many local police officers completed training to be on the drug task force. Since then, they’ve conducted several drug busts and have helped addicts get clean.
Several signs have popped up throughout the county encouraging anyone with drug information to anonymously share it with the DA’s office to help “push out the pusher.” Watson said in the past, that info would be sent to drug task force members and state police. But because of lack of staff, it might not be followed up on as promptly as needed.
In the county detective position, Rothermel will follow up on every lead and conduct surveillance, among other tactics, to make sure the tip is credible before developing a plan for arrest.
“A lot of our calls are credible,” Rothermel said. “The layperson has learned they do know what they’re seeing and are reporting it. We’re very thankful for the tips we’ve been given.”
Additionally, Watson hopes the county detective will be able to assist the borough police officers with their caseloads and more indepth investigations.
“In my humble opinion, our county-wide borough and township departments are a bit understaffed. There’s a lot going on,” Watson said. “Whereas the state police has 20 plus troopers who are available.”
Rothermel hopes to make a positive impact on the people of the county.
“I’ve always felt very drawn to law enforcement and since I moved here back in 1997, I made this my home and what happens in Potter County affects me. It means something to me,” Rothermel said. “I would love to be able to make more of a dent in a drug problem.”
Watson said now was a good time to bring the position to the county because they had the right person. Rothermel recently retired after being a state trooper for 23 years.
“I’ve worked with him on hundreds of cases,” Watson said. “I know Jake’s integrity, his hard work ethic, he’s a Christian and a family man — which is important to me — and I know I can trust him.”
Rothermel said he hopes this position will help bridge the gap between agencies.
“If there’s one thing I noticed working as a state trooper, I was pretty savvy as to what was going on in the county, but even then I had a feeling that I was missing things because there were always new names popping up, whether it be in the drug problem or other crimes that were happening,” Rothermel said.
Watson said his office has a good relationship with local police departments, the East Drug Task Force and federal agencies. With Rothermel’s help in filling in the gaps, “it will be very difficult for drug dealers to get past our law enforcement efforts,” Watson said.
Beyond the day-to-day law enforcement tasks, Watson and Rothermel hope to get out into the community and do more for the youths of the county. Watson said he often goes to schools to do presentations on drugs and alcohol, sexting and cyber harassment.“Jake has so much experience, I’d like to get him out to the schools with me and tell the kids some of his stories and what he’s been involved in and what he’s seeing out there currently,” Watson said.
Rothermel hopes more community members get involved in help solving the problem. He said the good people in the county far outnumber the police officers, who are doing a fantastic job, he said. Combining forces would have a greater impact to combat the problem.
“They don’t need to make (the drug dealers) feel so comfortable,” Rothermel said. “The people that feel like they can walk down the street high with impunity, that they can do their deals in practically broad daylight — and yes, that is primarily the police’s job — but the police cannot be everywhere.”
To provide a tip on drug activity to the DA’s office, call 814-274-9450 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.